Can a Christian Enjoy the World and Remain Holy?: A Subversive Concert Review
Holy Joy? It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Especially the way most Christians define these two words, “Holy” meaning a cold separation from the world and its pleasures and “joy” being a warm, emotional expression of the good things in life. If that’s exclusively how we define those terms, than by all means, we have an oxymoron on our hands. You can either be holy, or you can be joyful but never at the same time. So, for example, let’s just say that a Christian, in fact, a pastor of all things, were to somehow attend, oh I don’t know…let’s just say…a Dave Matthew’s concert (I know it’s improbable but work with me here). He would certainly find himself in a bit of a predicament.
Under our current definitions of “holy” and “joy,” one of those would have to be left out in this pastor’s experience. He would either have to determine to encounter the event in a state of holiness, in which case he could never sing along, make dance-like motions (which, if he happened to be a Baptist, is of course forbidden anyway), or cheer in appreciation of the talent on stage. The bottom line is that he would have to make double-dog sure that no enjoyment of the concert was expressed in any form or fashion. And let’s not even mention the fact that he would be surrounded by unbelievers who obviously were enjoying themselves, some way too much! Lastly, he could choose to pursue joy instead (gasp!). He could allow the music to sweep him up in its rhythms and for a moment in time, become indistinguishable from the pagans that surround him. In such a case, he would clearly be lacking in holiness, thus causing God to fold his arms in obvious disgust. What a predicament!
But what if we defined our terms differently; through the lens of the gospel perhaps. Well, than that might just change everything! In that case, our totally unlikely, Dave Matthew’s concert attending pastor would not need to avoid the event or determine to be a stoic, cold observer determined to not enjoy himself for the sake of God’s approval because he would already have it! That’s right, he would have been declared to BE holy already through his union with Christ. He would not have to stand outside the gate with a protest sign or hand out tracts to concert goers or, at minimum, give the beer drinkers the stink eye. In fact, he could actually enjoy himself. He could actually experience the concert with a sense of thanksgiving. He could actually celebrate the talent that God gave to some of the best musicians in the world. He could listen to a Tim Reynolds guitar solo with wonder and awe or react with complete enthusiasm (a word that means “in God,” by the way) over one of the many DMB classics that were played. He might even bob his head up and down (which is acceptable among a handful of progressive Baptists as a non-dancing move) to songs like “Ants Marching” and “Why I Am” and deep cut favorites like “Louisiana Bayou.” What if our pastor savored a fifteen minuet version of “Crush” as it progressed into an improvised jazz/rock/blues fusion jam session that was as original as a fingerprint. This pastor might even sing at full throat volume, at risk of damaging his preaching voice, to “Dancing Nancies” (could he have been a parking lot attendant?). Rumor has it that he might even have raised his hands in the air with elation when the first notes to “Don’t Drink the Water” ripped through the outdoor arena (how he actually knows that song is still a mystery; perhaps it was played during an offering at church one time).
What if holiness, according to the gospel, didn’t mean separating ourselves from the world but separating ourselves from the world’s fallen values. The apostle John defines worldiness in 1 John 2:16: For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. Notice worldiness does not mean avoiding God’s good creation and calling everything good evil. No, worldiness is the result of approaching the world with disordered love to where we use the world and the things in it to satisfy our inner longing for happiness and satisfaction.
Furthermore, what if joy, according to the gospel, wasn’t simply a feeling of happiness but was much more robust than that. What if joy was more of a deep seated contentment in the fact that we are approved by and accepted by God and there was nothing we could do to screw that up because it was based on Christ’s life and not our own? Such a definition would make sense of passages like 2 Corinthians 6:10, where Paul describes the apostles as being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Through the gospel, “Holy Joy” becomes a reality. God created a world full of wonder that points us to His glory. He is a God of incredible imagination and creativity. When he thinks of something, it becomes the very thing He imagined. We are invited by God to open up our eyes to the wonder that surrounds us and rejoice in it. Steve Dewitt said it well; “The experience of beauty does something profound and powerful within the heart and soul of every human being. Beauty creates wonder in us.” God created things like music and good food and friendships, and then he created us with eyes and ears and tastebuds. He didn’t have to do any of that but he did! He did because He wants us to enjoy the world He created in a way that points us to Him and celebrates Him. When we rejoice in what He has made and praise Him as the great artist that He is, we bring Him glory. Sure it’s true we can overindulge in the good things of the world, and we can even turn them into idols. But if we use them for their intended purpose, than a pastor can actually attend a Dave Matthew’s concert and give God glory, and in doing so, can experience Holy Joy!